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Thermal Systems Engineering for Desalination and Resource Recovery

Event Type
Mechanical Science and Engineering
4100 Sidney Lu Mechanical Engineering Building
Apr 30, 2024   4:00 pm  
Professor John H. Lienhard V, PhD, PE, Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Amy Rumsey


The world’s renewable fresh water supply, from net precipitation over land, has become much more variable as the Earth’s surface temperature has risen.  Further, world population has nearly quadrupled during the past century, and the water demands of growing economies have continued to rise.  As a result, water scarcity is a growing problem worldwide, impacting not only water for drinking and sanitation, but also reducing crop production and the health of ecosystems. 

 Desalination has been deployed worldwide to expand the supply of freshwater and to manage wastewater.   Installed desalination capacity has risen rapidly, especially in coastal areas, and now exceeds 100 billion L/day.  Although the cost and lifetime of plants have improved steadily, energy efficiency and brine resource recovery remain significant goals. In this talk, I will discuss my group’s research on energy use in desalination, on selective recovery of chemical and mineral resources from saline water, and on the application of concepts from thermal systems engineering to improve the performance of both thermal and membrane desalination systems. Examples will be drawn from reverse osmosis, humidification-dehumidification, membrane distillation, solvent extraction, and lithium capture.  I will also discuss our work on large-scale desalination at California’s last nuclear power plant, to provide both energy and fresh water without carbon emissions.

About the Speaker

John H. Lienhard V is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and the founding Director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab at MIT (J-WAFS). During more than thirty-five years on the MIT faculty, Lienhard’s research and educational efforts have focused on heat and mass transfer, thermodynamics, and separation processes. As Director of J-WAFS, he has funded scores of research projects on food and water systems, spanning more than 30 MIT departments.

Lienhard received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in thermal engineering at UCLA and his PhD in fluid dynamics at UC San Diego. His research on water purification has included lithium recovery, solvent extraction, humidification-dehumidification desalination, membrane distillation, reverse osmosis, nanofiltration, electrodialysis, high salinity brines, and energy efficiency. Lienhard has directly supervised more than 100 graduate theses and postdocs, and he is author of more than 300 peer-reviewed publications. He has been issued more than 40 US patents, is a co-founder of the international water treatment company Gradiant Corporation, and is a registered professional engineer in Massachusetts and Vermont.

Lienhard is a Fellow of ASME, AAAS, and ASTFE.  He is a recipient of the 2012 ASME Technical Communities Globalization Medal, the 2015 ASME Heat Transfer Memorial Award, the 2019 ASME Edward F. Obert Award, and the 2022 AIChE Donald Q. Kern Award.

Host: Professor Kyle Smith

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